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Jury awards $13M in Harford County malpractice case stemming from 2004 birth

A Harford County jury awarded more than $13 million to a mother and her son, a now-18-year-old who suffered brain injuries during his birth at the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in 2004.

The lawsuit claimed that medical staff at the center were negligent by failing to initiate a cesarean section when the baby showed signs of fetal distress. Now 18 years old, the boy suffered bleeding inside his skull during the delivery, which led to permanent brain damage and intellectual disability, according to the complaint.

Jurors found in favor of the mother, Kenyetta Lewis, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of her son in 2020. The $13.3 million verdict included $10.5 million for future medical care and expenses and $2 million for pain and suffering, which will be reduced under Maryland’s damages cap.

The remainder was awarded for loss of earning capacity, said Jon Stefanuca, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs who tried the case with Briggs Bedigian and Merritt Lentz, of Gillman and Bedigian, LLC.

“We’re very thrilled that a Harford County jury was able to see that a brain injury that manifests in compromised cognitive function has value and that it is important,” Stefanuca said. “In this case, a jury was able to see that a man’s life was changed forever because his mind is compromised.”

Lewis went to the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center on July 26, 2004, and was admitted to have labor induced, according to the complaint. Lewis had elevated blood pressure but there were no other signs of a medical emergency or fetal distress.

Lewis was started on Pitocin, a medicine that helps induce contractions, according to the complaint. Her labor went on for more than 17 hours, during which she had elevated blood pressure and there were signs of abnormalities on the fetal heart monitor.

Based on those signs, “the baby should have been delivered by C-section much sooner,” Stefanuca wrote in the complaint. “An earlier delivery would have resulted in the delivery of a healthy child, and baby Lewis would have avoided all injuries.”

The jury trial took more than two weeks and concluded on July 27. Jurors found the attending physician, Dr. Arthur Morey, was negligent and failed to obtain Lewis’ informed consent while she was in labor, Stefanuca said.

The jury also found that nursing staff were negligent “for failing to properly administer Pitocin and for failing to recognize signs and symptoms of fetal distress during labor,” he said.

Thomas Whiteford, the lawyer who represented Morey, also did not return a request for comment.

A spokesperson for the University of Maryland Medical System, which owns the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, said in an email that the system is assessing its options for an appeal.

“Cases involving children are always difficult to litigate and often understandably invoke emotional responses,” said the spokesperson, Michael Schwartzberg. “We continue to wish the plaintiff and her son all the best. We are strongly supportive of the obstetrical care delivered in this case, which we believe met the standards of care that were appropriate nearly two decades ago.”